Elizabeth Ajetunmobi: To have a better society, we need to focus more on the family institution
Elizabeth Ajetunmobi is a human resource consultant, educator and family life enthusiast who provides support to families and guides them to create systems that help families thrive. A teacher with an impeccable track record of working successfully with children and adults, she is also a parenting and life coach, and President of the Association of Household Employee Managers (AHEM). She is the co-founder/chairman of Imagine Global Solutions, an institution reaching the unbanked in Nigeria. An alumnus of several schools both home and abroad, her experience spans education, family life, child expert, human resources and finance. Member of several bodies, she is a WIMBIZ mentor and a mentor at FCMB’s Sheventures programme. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about the need to reform the country’s domestic industry and end the use of underage children as domestic helps.
Take us through your journey before you ventured into this sector?
I used to teach at an international school here in Lagos and my experience in teaching little children was very fulfilling. While working in the education sector, I had the opportunity to meet different domestic staff that would come to get the children after school and my daily interaction with these workers got me thinking about the vital role they play in supporting families.
A domestic staff’s job is as important as any other job. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) put out a research about how domestic workers all over the world have further promoted women empowerment and gender inclusion in the workplace. If domestic workers play this vital role in nation building, then it’s important we begin to take the industry seriously and that is what AHEM seeks to address. Personal experience and passion led me to starting this association; I identified the challenges in this space and stepped up to bridge this gap. My passion to see families thrive and raise wholesome children who go on to impact their society positively is also one of the reasons why I went into this industry. One thing that we as an organisation and members of AHEM have started doing is educating people about the issues around child labour. Our members do not engage in this act and we try to educate local agents about the dangers of child labour.
How did your educational and work experience prepare you for this task?
My experience cuts across different sectors including banking, management consulting, education and now human resources. I started out helping out in my family business, which was a real eye opener to me. This experience helped shaped my life as I learnt valuable lessons from there. My first formal job was at a bank in Lagos; I stayed briefly at the bank before proceeding for my youth service.
After NYSC, I worked in a management-consulting firm before leaving to pursue my dream of being an educator. I worked there for a while before I left to start my own business in 2017. As an alumnus of the University of Nottingham, Obafemi Awolowo University, Park Royal Finishing School and China European Business School, I believe these degrees prepared me for this life. I am also a member of CIPD, Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria and now, AHEM.
As a mentor and teacher, what have been your experience(s) mentoring women and girls?
Truthfully, girls need mentoring from more experienced women, and as they get older, they need to mentor others. As women, we need to do better in supporting one another because women are central to everything in this world. Things are looking up in this regard but we can do better. We need to teach girls to be bold and confident; to reach for their goals and fulfil potential, as well as how to integrate family life with work so that no area suffers. To have a better society, we need to focus more on the family institution and we need all hands on deck to achieve this.
Mentoring should ideally begin at family level because the effects of this trickle down into the society at large. Challenges young ladies face today ranges from access to quality education, child marriage, child labour, getting a solid support system, managing the home to mention a few. What we need are wholesome children or young adults who would go ahead and make an impact in their world. Intentionally, mentoring and coaching young girls to do better would help and go a long way. No matter what we do, we must look for ways to educate and keep improving women. We need to raise women who are more interested in giving value much more than they are looking to get, break through societal stereotypes and look for the good in others.
You have been clamouring for an association that will encompass all household employees all over the country, why is this important at this time?
There is need to create a future for service workers. With the growing prevalence of precarious employment and people suddenly loosing their jobs, there is need to improve outcomes for domestic workers; find new ways of enhancing the creativity content of service jobs through certification, better training and job designs. This will in turn increase vocational education to help create a dedicated and professionalized routine-service workforce.
You mentioned that domestic household industry remains an untapped segment of Nigeria’s economy, why do you think so?
The domestic staffing industry is an untapped segment because it has not been exploited yet and this is due to lack of structure and poor data collection. Nigeria has a huge human resource reservoir that can fill in this industry if properly harnessed with the right training and system support, which we are yet to do.
What are some of the dangers of not having a standardised service industry and will this association solve these issues?
The dangers are too numerous to count, but I would mention a few, including underage labour. There’s lack of professionalism, access to quality education and training, security risk, low wages, lack of career prospects, harsh work hours, lack of respect and visibility of domestic workers, undocumented and undeclared staff and child fostering. Child fostering is when parents in rural areas give out their children to others to help them look after them. Most child fostering relationships are not different from hiring underage children, as the children are made to work for long hours. We’ve started addressing some of these issues by looking to dignify labour and change the narrative in this industry.
The issue of underage labour is something we have discussed and have come to a conclusion that anyone below the age of 18 is still a child and must not be deployed for work. The shocking thing we realised from experience is that even at 18 years, people cannot cope with the domestic staff job due to the enormity of the task. We have started sensitising domestic workers on ways to properly exit a job instead of running away and throwing their employers off balance.
We also sensitise employers to provide incentives to help promote job satisfaction. However, the association cannot do the work alone, we need support from all; we need to support one another to get this industry standardized. With a formal body comprising of professional players in the industry, there will be improved regulation considering that we all have the interest of domestic workers and employers at heart.
The use of underage children as domestic help in Nigeria has been a major concern for many. How can we end this?
Children should be children and enjoy their childhood, they should be provided with the basic amenities of life and given opportunities to decide their career path. Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use underage children as helps and we all must come together to put an end to it. We can end the use of underage children as helps by further enhancing our collective knowledge on child labour and its repercussions. Then, raising awareness and advocacy to transform social attitudes of communities, especially families. Adoption and enforcement of legislative and policy penalties should be taken seriously. Also, a compliant mechanism should be developed and implemented with offenders punished publicly to serve as deterrent to others.
Are there specific areas your association intends to improve upon?
Our focus is to emphasise on dignifying and professionalising domestic labour. We want to create structures and standard operation procedures for the industry as a whole and advocate for the rights of domestic workers (especially in terms of abuse which is rife) and employers in Nigeria; first as human beings before taking it on a professional level.
Again, the process of hiring into homes would be standardised; we also intend to develop a pattern that is civil and safe for both parties in their rule of engagements on their job. A standard will be laid out nationally on how domestic staff should be treated and how they should also treat their employers and children and vice versa.
Are thinking of having a database where prospective employers can seek information, education and possibly redress?
Yes, there would. Part of our target is to create structure in the industry, which also includes having a database of domestic workers, employers, and agencies that prospective employers and employees can consult in case of any problems.
This industry is mostly made up of unskilled to semi-skilled individuals, how do you intend to educate them on the importance of belonging to an association and the benefits?
We will leverage on utilising the gap between their skills and that of their counterparts who are ‘skilled’ considering that the present economy is in search of people who can add value irrespective of whatever services they are offering. We will be partnering with the government and other agencies to spread information and help them see the need why they should be part of us. The association will be beneficial to them in terms of national identification as that opens access for jobs opportunities, skill development, protection and support.
How do you intend to gain support and recognition from the government?
We will reach out for support through partnership because we cannot do this on our own. We’ll do our best in organising programmes and fulfill our goals and we’re certain our work will speak for itself. We believe if we get it right as a country, other African countries would follow suit. We fully intend to let them know the vision and mission and carry them along. We’ll let government related agencies know the importance of supporting and how we can positively influence the nation at large, families, domestic workers to create a happy, safe and professional environment. We will organise meetings with the government, come up with policies that would organise all domestic staffing activities in Nigeria and discuss how we can create new laws that protect all parties involved. This will create structure, safety and professionalism in the industry, just like you have in the hospitality industry.
What are the major challenges facing this industry?
Our challenges include the continuous use of underage workers by Nigerians, sexual abuse of both domestic workers and children who some of these workers abuse, undermining domestic workers, theft, under payment, lack of proper database of domestic staff and their employers and lack of professionalism in rules of engagement. Others are low turnover of qualified domestic staff and employers continually breaching contracts and not adhering to terms and conditions but all that is about to change.
Despite all these problems, however, we’ve been able to create tailored trainings, life coaching services and emotional healing sessions with a pool of human resource companies who have helped with the hiring process and data collection.
We found a need and have come forth with solutions and services to help combat these challenges. We still need more hands and support because there are many rural communities who need help with setting up in this regard. We also have books to help parents stay organised to reduce the burden and stress from parents and their employees. All these services are provided by most of the members of AHEM, but we want to scale up and carry out all these activities at national level.
What are some life challenges you have faced personally and how did you overcome?
I love this quote from Bernie Seagal that says, “Embrace each challenge in your life as an opportunity for self-transformation.” Challenges make us better versions of ourselves. I lost my father before I turned two and I was left with my mother and siblings. Thankfully, my mother believed so much in education and was industrious. We had little, but she was determined to make things work. She had a grocery business, which we all had to work in to make ends meet. She instilled the discipline to hang in there when things are tough. There have been challenges getting to where I am today, but I’m glad I have a very thick skin to surmount them.
How do you actually solve problems while earning a living form this space?
For problems, we take it one day at a time. Thankfully, I have an amazing team that are dedicated to see to the progress of the business. Like I usually say, do not go about seeking to only earn a living; go out there and solve problems for people. Solve problems for people and you would be paid well for the problems you solve. We need to realise that making good living is tied to problems you solve for others. I look forward to a Nigeria that would have leaders who are more interested in solving problems for others rather than for their pockets alone.
What drives your passion for this industry?
The world is advancing and at a very high speed; it is left for us to catch up with it. Our passion is driven by our vision to impact on lives positively in the domestic industry, and for this to be sustainable we have to work as a team and that’s why we have a lot of us coming together and putting in our all to take this vision to the next level.
Women make up the greater part of this industry, how best can we protect and uplift them?
We can do this by protecting and uplifting them with the creation of trainings, re-orientation programs and support system. We must also encourage them to harness such opportunities optimally. Women naturally are opportunity seizers and one of the outcomes of this association is that women will be empowered to work and will be able to take care of themselves and their families. The government should ensure that those that violate women’s rights are brought to book. We believe with the assistance of the government, a lot can be achieved.
What last words do you want to leave with women reading this?
To the women out there, I want to encourage and let you know your dreams are valid and you are worthy of everything good your heart wants and desires.
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